In The Papaya Man, Georges arrives to deliver lunch at the office of a temporary employment agency located on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard. His basket is full of local favorites and fruit including a papaya, an exotic treat that he promises will "knock your socks off." It's not totally clear whether it's meant as a main course or dessert, but the latter is most likely since the play is ripest and sweetest at its conclusion.
The new work by local writer Phyllis Clemons is a fun romantic comedy about the routines of office work and some of the more enticing diversions from it. While the romantic and dramatic plots ripen slowly, the low hanging fruit of office banter keeps the enterprise going.
The offices of Top Temps are on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, but the aging owner, Mr. Cohen (Michael Martin) is a man stuck in the past. He insists on calling the thoroughfare Drayades Street and blissfully ignores the changes going on around him. Sonnet (Marie Slade Weatherspoon) has managed the office for Cohen for years, allowing him the luxury of missing out on changing times. The only place their visions cross is on office management style. Cohen sees workers half at work and sees promise. Sonnet sees workers spending half of their time attending to personal matters and prescribes pink slips. He wants her to nurture them. She believes they need to shape up or ship out.
The office workers are an entertaining bunch. Donna King as the office prosyletizer is funny and unflappable throughout. She has an answer for everything, or rather one of two solutions to fit all problems. Either finding a husband or regularly attending church -- her church -- will cure all ills. Vera (Anastacia Scott) is a gold-digging, fun-loving young office assistant, who starts the play with neither a husband nor religious convictions. Tony (Stephon Larence Guidry) is a campy and flippant counterpoint to both women. He's also looking for a man, but would just as easily settle for an easier-going workplace.
The first act is buoyed by office banter and the cat and mouse game between Sonnet and her subordinates. They work or appear to work when she's around, and as soon as she's out of sight, they gripe and plot ways to keep her out of their hair. It's not altogether clear whether she's unfair to them or whether they are unusually prolific slackers. In any case, there's a simple explanation that all agree on, she's sour for lack of a man in her life.
As if called by name, in walks Georges (Escalante Lundy), who is opening up a restaurant on the block. Tall and dashing, he's a sight for the sore and bored eyes around the office. But they quickly agree to share him in the best way for all, by offering him as a sacrifice to Sonnet. So they have lunch delivered again in order to keep up his regular visits, and it's not long before he catches Sonnet's eye as well. As business managers, they seem to have a lot in common and hit it off.
Everything seems to be going great, or perhaps it goes too well. Things get too close for comfort when business and pleasure mix. Mr. Cohen wants out of the business and is ready to sell. Sonnet feels like she already owns it after two decades of building it up. And who else would want to buy it anyway? Now they both see a prospect in the handsome new stranger.
The play is the newest work by Phyllis M. Clemons. She also wrote Siege on Duncan Street, Miss Emma's Kitchen, the Bus Rider Monologues, Relative Madness, The Good Man's Wife and Housewarming, which premiered at Anthony Bean Community Theater in 2005. This work has fun characters and a few clever plot twists, but the drama develops slowly. Familiar and absurd office chatter is fun and fresh.
The second act offers greater rewards. With her life ruffled by an unfortunate accident, Vera's in a whole new world. Scott gets the opportunity to bring a lot more to the role and she delivers an emotional and compelling performance. It takes a while for the intrigue to develop and Weatherspoon and Lundy are too even-keeled and don't really open up in the first act. Fortunately, both blossom as their predicaments become more complicated and intertwined in the second half. Martin also benefits, going from being a largely absentee owner throwing around platitudes to being the boss who suddenly doesn't know how the filing system works but needs to. He's funnier and more inspired when the pressure is on and he has his own pressing new agenda.
The drama here is full of simple pleasures that are fun whether they come off as catty or sweet. It's a refreshing production with a lot of local flavor.
- The Papaya Man is a sweet romantic comedy playing at Anthony Bean Community Theater.